Chicago Comic Con: A Tale of Two Cons (Part One)
We, the true believers all have that “home show”. That convention we never miss because it’s in our backyard. We treasure the memories we build there. And for those of us who aspire to become creators (like me and my Unshaven Comics cohorts) the “home show” is also where we first took the plunge and moved to the other side of the aisle to become creators, not just conventioneers. For me, that home show has been the Chicago Comic Con. I, of course, knew it as “Wizard World Chicago” when I first walked in the doors a newly christened comic fan in 1999. Ever since, that show has been a stalwart in my calender. I’ve not missed it, now, for 11 years in a row. Suffice to say, I’ve had a ton of great memories over the years. From catching the first glimpse of The Dark Knight, sitting mere feet away from Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan, and David Goyer… to sitting in a jam packed ballroom, sharing a laugh over the secrets of Wonder Woman #219… to that first year I had to give up attending Wizard School panels, in order to sell my first graphic novel.
As the years have passed, my Unshaven family and I have noticed a rising trend. What started as just ribs and pokes from snottier fans who’d long proclaimed Wizard to be unhip and “mainstream”, changed to a general malaise from many of the fans we stood shoulder to shoulder with in lines for huge attractions like Kevin Smith Q and A’s to the aforementioned Dark Knight sneak preview. It seemed many Windy City con goers where feeling a slow and steady decline in attendance, in spirits, and most importantly in quality. As I touched on it in a previous article… it would seem that at last year’s Chicago Comic Con, a keystone had crumbled. Where once mighty booths manned by the biggest publishers stood greeting con-goers as they entered the center, were now gone, and replaced with questionable replacements. In 2009, where DC’s mighty banners once hung, and the DC Direct glass where my nose was pressed with palpable envy stood a Tonner Doll booth… where porcelain cherubic faced Harry Potters and Twilight Edwards now glared at me in monotone smiles. Where the Mighty Marvel erected it’s booth where cathartic creators sat and signed piles of books now sat a blacklight-rave music pumping-psuedo ninja weapon booth, manned by people who I can assure you couldn’t tell the difference between Deadpool and Deadshot. Thus, today it was with fearful steps that I entered that large hall once more… and hours later, I sit here, truly sad to type these words: My home show is a sorry shadow of it’s former self.
My first clue? The programming. In between bouts of buying, many fans
like to kick up their heels for a spell, and share in panels. Programs
have ranged in the past to general sneak peaks at upcoming books… Q
and A sessions with publishers and their top creators. “Wizard Chicago”
used to take up 2 rows of ballrooms to cover all the content it offered
as a sideshow to the main floor. Screening rooms that showed a never
ending series of Anime and Cartoons… the “Wizard School” where
seasoned veterans and young talent alike helped share tip, tricks, and
war stories to fans looking to break into the business. And in the main
halls, huge announcements and events took place, providing the 3+ day
convention with a stream of buzz.
This year? Only 2 rooms for
programming. Today’s highlights? In Room A Fans were treated to sneak
previews / Q and A sessions for the upcoming films Devil and Centurion. Yeah. Riveting, no? Sure San Diego touted Sucker Punch, The Other Guys, Green Hornet, The Expendables, Scott Pilgrim, Green Lantern, Thor and the announced Avengers
flick (with the main cast all on stage to boot!)… but Chicago got
these two gems, to rile up the crowd into a frenzy. Following those
previews, apple iPhone app game makers of ‘Pocket Gods’ got to entertain
all 30 or so fans to the story of their rise to fame in the app game.
And while I got to attend this (and will report on it soon) panel, and
have nothing snarky to say (gasp!)… certainly giving them a double
sized ball room was beyond overkill. Following their presentation,
artist Greg Horn took the stage to go over the change in his style since
moving to DC Comics. While Greg himself is a nice guy, who did his best
to keep things interesting… Wizard failed to provide him a machine
with Photoshop with which to demo… forcing Horn instead to attempt to
draw on the moderator’s iPad. Suffice to say, Greg admitted he needed
Photoshop. Bad. Over in Room B (the other room for programming goodness)
fans were treated to a Westwood College writing seminar (I attended.
Long story short? Copy Star Wars. That seems to work.), as well as a Q
and A with the principal and original Jennifer from Back to the Future… and hey, only 25 years too late.
this excitement on day one, and I know you’re chomping at the bit for
what’s in store for programming for the rest of the weekend. Con goers
on Saturday can spend literally the whole day in the “Creation
Experience” where for a nominal fee, sit in the front row while a parade
of aging stars take questions, between well prepared music videos. I
can barely contain my excitement. And Sunday? There’s a panel to
celebrate the art of collecting die cast cars. I wish that was a joke
So you say, hey, give them a break! Maybe the panels aren’t
so hot this year, but come on… there’s still the MAIN FLOOR man!
Sure. Did I mention that Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Dynamite,
and even Chicago’s own Moonlight Press aren’t at the show? Or that the
first booth you see upon entering is a booth to buy “show exclusives”.
In addition to that, Unshaven Kyle Gnepper even noted that Wizard is
SELLING badges. Where once show goers got a bag of schwag and a tag to
commemorate a weekend’s worth of fun… now, for a nominal fee… you
can at least have that badge. And for a little more money… maybe you
can get it autographed by a retired wrestler.
Stay tuned kids, this story only gets better. Day 2: Dealer Room Boogaloo is on it’s way to you tomorrow.